After enduring three major hurricanes — Harvey, Maria, and Irma — in a few short weeks last fall, our nation is once again watching a monster storm churn its way toward our coastline. This time, the Carolina coast (which has not had a strike from a Category 4 storm since 1989) is in the bull’s-eye of Florence, which is predicted to bring life-threatening surge and damaging winds to the coast before stalling and dumping feet of rain on inland areas throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
With each new storm, we are forced to question whether this is our new, climate change-fueled reality, and to ask ourselves what we can do to minimize the toll from supercharged storms.
Climate change absolutely creates the potential for stronger, more destructive hurricanes in three ways. First — as we saw with Hurricanes like Maria and may see again with Florence — when hurricanes pass over abnormally warm ocean waters, they gain power and energy. Driven in large part by human activity, the surface temperature of the ocean has warmed by roughly two degrees Fahrenheit since the turn of the 20th century. As a result, storms that form off the west coast of Africa during hurricane season and pass over unusually warm North Atlantic waters therefore have access to a vast fuel source — warm water — as they move westward and can grow monstrously destructive.
Second, when our atmosphere is warmed by climate change, it can hold more moisture, increasing the potential for extreme rainfall during storms. This phenomenon was displayed during Hurricane Harvey as it dropped 60 inches of rain over parts of Texas in a matter of just days. There, of course, terrible consequences ensued as rainfall led to catastrophic inland flooding. [Continue reading…]